Routine tasks get forgotten making the past seem shorter
Routines and habits make life seem shorter. A long period of time spent on the same or similar activities shortens our perception of this time years later. For instance, if we fish off the same dock with the same person for three hours every morning usually with the same results, the time may seem to drag at the time, depending on our level of interest. But afterwards, our brain can’t distinguish between one fishing session and the next. Our brain is too efficient to waste valuable space remembering multiple episodes of the same thing. The past will have seemed much shorter since this part of our life has been compressed. Barry Gibb, in his book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, refers to this as “retroactive interference.”
These effects make life seem to move faster as we grow older. The longer we live, and the more similarity there is in the things we have done, the more compressed our lives become.
An even more dramatic example might be that of watching TV or playing video games extensively. They not only rob you of time that might be better spent on something more meaningful, and seem to speed by quickly because of the rapidly changing images, but they also seem to shorten your life. Who can recall the eight years or so of TV that they have watched in the first 70 years of their life? Certainly I can’t. I have had no experience with video games, but I read in the book, A Whole New Mind, that the average American spends 75 hours per year playing video games. Of course there may be some advantages to playing video games; but certainly not when it comes to time spent and lost.
You are what your brain says you are. You have lived and experienced what your brain says you have lived and experienced. External time passes as quickly as your brain tells you it passes. See how important your brain is? In fact, I had to laugh when I read a line in one of the books on the brain. The author said, “I used to think my brain was the most important organ in my body – until I realized who was telling me that!”
Now we come to a very important question. Can we really manage internal time? Can we influence the perceived rate at which external time passes? Well, these are my opinions, and although most of my conclusions are based on actual brain research, you might research the topic and arrive at different conclusions. But as you will soon see if you read this collection of articles, I am convinced that we can manage internal time to a significant degree. And one way of slowing the passage of time from your brain’s perspective is to add variety to your life.
Don’t vacation in the same place each year or visit the same restaurants or go out with the same friends. Don’t be a creature of habit. Habits have their place in speeding up mundane tasks and improving your efficiency, such as handling each piece of paper only once and always putting your keys in the same place. But don’t make your whole life a habit. Habits are an enemy of time because later you can’t recall most of what you have done. One activity is like all the others. So variety is not only the spice of life, as far as your internal clock is concerned, it stretches time. So don’t go through life on autopilot. Break the routine.